Stephen A. Smith And The Rise Of The Celebrity Sports ‘Reporter’
On Monday, Stephen A. Smith got his panties in a massive twist because Kevin Durant called him a liar. He spent a very long time talking about how inexcusable it was for Durant to question his credibility, but never really got around to proving that what he said about Durant was true.
The explosion of digital media in the age of the internet is responsible for many wonderful things, not the least of which is my career as a writer and the writing careers of most of my colleagues. Twitter, blogs, YouTube and other online entities have paved the way for talented no-namers to have their voices heard and subsequently earn successful media careers in ways that they never could have twenty - or even ten - years ago.
With that being said, it has also brought with it a sense of self-righteousness and over-inflated egos; egos that are very much attributed to the fame that social media now allows. People are more famous, and more people are famous than ever before; and people like Stephen A. Smith are starting to think that the jobs they are famous for don't apply to them anymore.
There are YouTube "celebrities", Instagram celebrities", reality TV "celebrities. The people on our TVs in the news and in our favorite shows and the movie stars and athletes that would be famous even without social media benefit from exponential fame and recognition than they would have in decades past. Stephen A. Smith is not one of those people. He has benefited greatly from the social media generation, and it has turned him into a terrible, millennial bastardization of the sports reporter.
His ego has clouded his idea of what his job really is. His fame is based on his role as a former reporter and current sports talk show host, and along with those roles comes an understanding that his analysis, commentary and reports remain dedicated to the responsibilities of those roles. The platforms for propagating sports news, information and opinion may have changed over the last two decades, but the inherent responsibility and nature of a reporter has not.
If you are going to get on TV and report a rumor you have heard without naming any sources, then there should be no surprise when the subject of your unsubstantiated report responds with absolute denial. In that case, the reporter has but one thing to do; move along. Stephen A. Smith is not the first reporter or sports TV personality to have his credibility questioned or assailed by an athlete, and he won't be the last.
It is downright absurd to get into a he-sad-she-said pissing contest on national television with an NBA superstar just because he denied a report that you can't back up. Stephen A. Smith rambled on for what felt like hours about how Durant is the liar, and how KD is lucky that Smith hadn't had to be on air the next day.
"Had I had to come on air the next day, after reading somebody questioning my credibility and my character, I can promise you it would've been very bad.
He later added,
“You do not — I will say it again — you do not want to make an enemy out of me.”
WHY?! Why would it have been very bad, Stephen?! You got on television and reported something about someone else's life, then go off the rails when they publicly respond. Yeah, that's not how this works. You are the reporter. You bear the burden of proving what you say is true. That's literally your job as a reporter. When you fail to do so, your credibility gets called into question. That's the nature of why you claim to have credibility in the first place.
Part of Smith's rant included him touting how great of a reporter he has proven himself to be in the past, and claiming that he could get all the information he wanted if he were to go into an NBA locker room. That may very well be true but unfortunately for Smith, he didn't go into a locker room for this specific report. He didn't go get a direct quote from a teammate or owner or GM or coach. He said he had heard through his contacts in the NBA, which is not enough. He knows that, and Durant knew that so he called his bluff. There was no breach of media/athlete decorum in the situation.
Smith made it about himself and his character and his reputation because he resented being embarrassed. Rather than getting on TV and saying "I stand by my original report but I understand that KD has a right to deny it until I can offer up an exact source." he threw a temper tantrum; because like so many others in this age of social media where sports television personalities are more famous than ever, he actually thinks he is part of the story. He wants to play the role of reporter and throw his credibility around like a badge of honor but refuses to bear any of the responsibility and consequence that comes with it.
He is part of a burgeoning group of people, famous or otherwise, that are increasingly unable to accept that the sports figures and athletes that they cover do not owe them anything. Smith appears in his rant to be an entitled blowhard who thinks that being a well-known former NBA reporter on a highly-rated TV show gives him the right to speculate about other people's lives and intentions and careers without ever getting that thrown back at him. It's the height of hypocrisy. Even worse than that, it's a total disregard for the standards on which he supposedly built his "impregnable" credibility in the first place.
The job of the athlete is to play their sport and to do it to the best of their ability so that they can make money and win championships. As long as they fulfill their league-mandated media appearances, they have done their end of things. If they decide to respond negatively to a report, and the reporter does not have enough to prove that they are telling the truth, that's the reporter's problem; whether they like it or not.
The code of being an athlete does not include that everything they say about a reporter be true. Athletes are athletes, and they can say whatever they want and it doesn't have to be true or real. They bear no burden of proof. If Kobe Bryant decided to wake up in the morning and say that Skip Bayless is half man and half Yeti, he wouldn't have to prove that in order for people to believe he is good at the job he gets paid for; yet the opposite is true for reporters.
That's why the job isn't for everyone. Credibility is hard to achieve, and even harder to maintain. The ease with which some shitty rant on an ESPN talk show can go viral now has clearly warped Smith's idea of how important he really is, and unfortunately he is not the only one.
The most annoying part about all of this is that there is one easy solution here. Just don't report things.
If Smith wants to be as famous as the athletes he covers and revel in his own celebrity and rest on the reputation he built as a once-upon-a-time reporter, than he can do that. He could just be a celebrity talk show host who pontificates on TV and never reports a goddamn thing. But if he's going to report something, he needs to remember that it's he who owes the world an honest story about the athletes; not the other way around.
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